This is the first in a series of extracts from the No Conscription Fellowship’s journal, published in the UK between March 1916 and November 1918
For further updates go to https://nfpb.org.uk/archive/tribunal/
The object of the “Tribunal” will be to acquaint our members and the general public with those facts concerning the Military Service Act which receive scant attention from the daily press just because they provide the gravest indictment of that Act.
The mass of evidence of scandalous maladministration of the Act, which we shall publish will, we hope, be of some assistance to all who are fighting with us for its repeal. Our greatest difficulty will be lack of space. We must ask the indulgence of our readers in this matter, and urge them to consider that paper is very dear, and that heavy demands are already being made upon our funds. Perhaps this hint will be taken so seriously by many of our supporters that our next issue will have grown!
We know we can rely upon our Branch Secretaries and members generally to do their utmost to secure us the widest possible circulation, and to place the paper in the hands of those who should be in possession of the facts recorded.
OUR POINT OF VIEW
The administration of the Military Service Act must be at once challenged. The Act recognises conscience, and calls upon the conscientious objector to lay his case before Tribunals. Accordingly, some 10,000 members of the No-Conscription Fellowship and other bodies have sent in claims for exemption. The Tribunals, however, notwithstanding that Parliament has recognised conscience, seems to take the view that a conscientious objector, whatever his statement of belief, is a person to be rebuked, bullied, and condemned.
Presumably the Government intended a conscientious objection to be submitted either by word of mouth, or in writing: so far as we are aware, there is no other method of putting into effect the Government’s proposal. Tribunals, however, arrive at their decisions without regard to, or in direct conflict with everything the conscientious objector says or writes. If he argues Christianity he is told that he is a hypocrite; if his he argues Socialism he is told that he is a politician; if his replies are consistent, the indignation of the Tribunals is intensified. It is imperative that the Government should realise the serious position that will be created by this conflict between the method of the Tribunals and the intention of Parliament, as expressed in the Act.
The vast majority of conscientious objectors can make no distinction between combatant and non-combatant military service. If the firing of a rifle is wrong, the carrying of the ammunition is equally wrong. We have emphasised the contention in our recent letter to the President of the Local Government Board, while this belief of the conscientious objector was made abundantly clear to the Prime Minister during the passage of the Bill through Parliament. The Act was so drawn as to provide for the granting of absolute exemption to such applicants. Notwithstanding this, however, and regardless of the point of view of the claimant, non-combatant military service is invariably imposed by the Tribunals. The only possible result is that all conscientious objectors are appealing to the Appeals Tribunals.
It is probable that the Government may give more explicit for uniform and understanding treatment by the Appeals Tribunals. If, however, these higher Tribunals decline to grant absolute exemption and impose non-combatant service, the Government and the public must not for a moment suppose that the objector who claims exemption on grounds of conscience will then waive his conscience and accept a service which he believes to be wrong.
If the local Tribunals refuse even to recognise conscience, and the Appeal Tribunals maintain their decisions, the Government will ultimately have to face the problem of imposing penalties upon the conscientious objector. His belief, absurd and inconsiderate as it may be deemed, is so sincerely held, that he must and will suffer rather than be false to his faith.
It is well that this serious position arising from administration of the Act should at once be clearly understood.